Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lovely, lovely laksa

I apologize for the smartphone photo. I had not planned on blogging this,
but it just came out so tasty, I could not help myself.

Red curry laksa with shrimp

(Malaysian-style rice noodle soup)

This is a dinner that was planned for another day. But with a head cold setting in, I needed something with spice and flavor, but not a lot of heat.
This soup, a Malaysian style dish, has plenty of aromatics in the lemongrass, garlic and ginger. There is turmeric, which adds flavor and gives it a lovely golden-orange color.
And, one of my favorites is in here: red curry paste.
There is so much going on here, yet it all works perfectly together. And perfectly with the base of broth and coconut milk.
Thinly sliced onion and red pepper swirl around the bowl with light, thin rice noodles, and shrimp add some meatiness.
To finish the soup, I wanted more fragrant goodies, so I topped it all with little tears of fresh mint and basil.
The smartphone picture does not do justice to the beauty of the dish, but it was getting late. And I really just wanted to eat.
But first, to give it a sniff. It was all there. Fragrant perfection.
And the more I ate of it, the more my head cleared. At least for the moment.
I can only that if it smelled and tasted this good with my impaired senses, it would really sing when things are firing on all cylinders.


1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large yellow onion, peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 4-inch lengths then split
1 14-ounce can coconut milk
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1-2 tablespoons red curry paste (add 1 tablespoon first, then adjust to taste)
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated finely with a microplane or chopped as fine as possible
 1 large red bell pepper, quartered, seeded and thinly sliced
3/4 pound peeled and deveined shrimp
3-4 ounces thin rice noodles (called rice vermicelli or rice sticks)
fresh mint and/or basil for garnish


Heat canola oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
Add onion, garlic and lemongrass. Cook, stirring often, about 5 minutes or until the onion is soft, but not browned.
Add the coconut milk, broth, fish sauce, red curry paste, honey, coriander, turmeric and ginger. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add red bell peppers and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Use tongs to carefully remove lemongrass pieces, or, if you leave them in, be careful when serving to leave them out of the bowl.
Add shrimp and rice noodles and continue to simmer about 3-4 minutes, until shrimp are cooked and noodles are soft.
Serve immediately. Sprinkle with fresh mint and/or basil.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Canned tomatoes or no canned tomatoes

That is the question a lot of people have been asking and re-asking since the whole BPA thing reared its ugly head.
For those who have not heard about this, BPA is Bisphenol A, used in a lot of plastics and can linings and many other things.
And it is, in many circles, deemed to be toxic.
StartinFrom Wikipedia:
g in 2008, several governments questioned its safety, prompting some retailers to withdraw polycarbonate products. A 2010 report from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raised further concerns regarding exposure of fetuses, infants, and young children.[1] In September 2010, Canada became the first country to declare BPA a toxic substance. In the European Union and Canada, BPA use is banned in baby bottles.

So... The tomato thing...

Canned tomatoes can be a homecooks wonderful helper. Except that the liners used in most cans contains BPA. And the acid in the tomatoes can break down the liners, causing the BPA to leach into the tomatoes.

There are some products that DO NOT use BPA in packaging. The first that comes to mind is POMI brand tomatoes in a Tetrapak. But these can be expensive and hard to find.

Me? I mostly use fresh tomatoes or sauce from a jar. I have not found diced tomatoes in a jar, but I really have not looked. I also like the paste in the tube.

But a friend brought up the tomato thing yesterday, which got me to thinking about it.

So I sent off a quick note to the parent of Muir Glen, a brand of canned tomatoes I have seen at Whole Foods (someone also said they have them at Target). I figured if they have it at WF, maybe there is a chance they don't use BPA-cans.

And I was right. Here is the reply to my inquiry:

Thank you for contacting Muir Glen about bisphenol-A or BPA.

As of October 2011, Muir Glen canned tomato products do not utilize BPA in product packaging.

Muir Glen continues to believe BPA is safe based on the weight of evidence of scientific and governmental bodies worldwide, including comprehensive risk assessments in Japan and the European Union along with the European Food Safety Authority’s reaffirmation in December 2011 of its opinion that there is no new evidence to suggest the tolerable daily intake of BPA needs to be lowered. The FDA has also endorsed the safety of current exposure levels.

However, we know that some of our consumers have chosen to avoid BPA, so we had been looking for alternatives. Working with our can suppliers and can manufacturers, Muir Glen was able to develop and test a safe and viable alternative that does not use BPA for our canned tomato products. We began transitioning to those linings with the fall 2010 tomato pack – and we completed that transition with the 2011 tomato pack.

The new liners are a vinyl based liner. The safety of this can lining has been thoroughly tested. In addition to complying with requirements set forth by the FDA, Small Planet Foods board certified toxicologist has concurred with this assessment.

Your views are important to us. Again, thank you for contacting Muir Glen, and thank you for your support of our products.

So, there you have it. Another BPA-free alternative for canned tomatoes.

Of course, I will still continue to use fresh as much as possible.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fresh and creamy banana cake

I was skipping through the Ina Garten book, "Barefoot Contessa: How Easy is That?" when I saw a recipe for Old-Fashioned Banana Cake.
With a toddler in the house, bananas are always a staple.
He eats a whole banana in a sitting, or we use them in smoothies, or I add them to his cereal.
But a couple weeks ago I had a few left at the end of the week that were, well, close to the trash bin.
Hating to waste food, I perked up when I saw the recipe for this cake that called for three very ripe bananas.
I slimmed it down a touch with low-fat sour cream and neufchatel for the frosting instead of cream cheese. I also skipped the butter in the frosting and reduced the sugar by 1/2 a cup.
I would have posted it sooner, but I think it has been so long since I blogged here that I forgot how.
Lucky for you, my two readers, I remembered my password, remembered how to take a picture with something besides my iPhone and remembered how to post to the blog.
Now, let them eat cake. Banana cake!

Fresh and creamy banana cake (my lower-fat version of Ina)
with "cream cheese" frosting


3 very ripe bananas
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra large eggs, at room temp
1/2 cup sour cream (I used low-fat)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
grated zest of one orange
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

"cream cheese" frosting:

8 ounces neufchatel cheese
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

for the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350.
Grease and flour a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan

Mix the bananas, sugar and brown sugar on low until combined. Add oil, eggs and vanilla, sour cream and orange zest and mix until smooth.

Add the dry ingredients in thirds and mix on low until just combined.

Stir in the walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, until a pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool in pan for 15 minutes then turn out onto cooling rack.

While cake is cooling, make the frosting.

for the frosting:

Mix neufchatel cheese, and vanilla until just combined. Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth.

Spread evenly over the cake and garnish with more walnuts, if desired.


The cake is so moist and creamy. Even without the frosting it is great.

The orange zest gives it the perfect brightness that it needs to lift it from banana cake to BANANA cake!

The frosting is just, well, the icing on the cake.



Saturday, March 12, 2011

Slow-cooker lasagna in red and white

I am on a roll lately with the great slow-cooker recipes.
First the short ribs.
Then the carnitas.
Then I decided to experiment with making lasagna in the slow cooker. And it was really good.
I made my version vegetarian, but it should work to add cooked ground meat in the layers, if you like that sort of thing.

There was a bit of work involved in this one. Which is typical of lasagna. I tried to cut down on that by using pre-washed bagged spinach and pre-cut bagged mushrooms. If I did not already have carrots at home I would have bought the pre-shredded ones. It did not add too much time to peel and grate the ones I already had. Same for chopping the onion.

Slow-cooker lasagna in red and white

Makes 8-10 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 5-6 hours

3 eggs
2 cups evaporated milk (do not use regular milk - it does not work well in the slow-cooker)
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2 cups low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup low-fat sour cream
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

1 jar of your favorite red pasta sauce (I used Classico Spicy Red Pepper)

1 box lasagna noodles
1 cup Parmesan cheese (divided into thirds)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (divided into thirds)
12 ounce bag baby spinach
5 ounce bag sliced brown mushrooms
4 carrots, peeled and grated
1 medium white onion, chopped

Mix first 11 ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.

Get all your veggies open, cleaned prepped and ready to use.

Spoon about a cup of the egg-cheese mixture into the bottom of the slow cooker then sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of the red sauce.
Layer noodles over the sauce in a single layer, breaking into pieces if needed to make them fit.

Sprinkle half the carrots, half the onion and all the mushrooms over the noodle layer, then sprinkle on about a third each of Parmesan and mozzarella.
Spoon over about a third of the remaining egg-cheese mixture and then about a third of the remaining red sauce.

Make another layer of noodles.
Cover that layer with spinach and remaining onion and carrot, then add another third of the Parmesan and mozzarella.
Spoon on another third of the egg-cheese mixture and red sauce.

Add one more layer of noodles. Cover with all the remaining egg-cheese mixture and remaining red sauce.
Sprinkle on remaining Parmesan and mozzarella.

Cook on low setting for 5-6 hours.

This was tricky to scoop out the first night.
The noodles were a little "loose" in the sauce, so it did not want to stand up.

But it tasted really good!
And it was even better reheated for dinner the second night.

And it stood up nicely then, as seen in the picture.

This is not a slow-cooker meal I can make on a weekday since it cooks in only 5-6 hours. On work days I need 8-10 hour recipes.

But it was a great thing to start at midday on a day off and just forget about until dinner.
I got it all ready and started while Ben napped.
I paired it with Caesar salad and a good wine for dinner.

I liked the blend of red and white sauces in this. I was just creamy enough, but not too rich.
And the veggies were terrific. If I had anything like ham or prosciutto, I would have chopped that up and added it to one of the layers. I think that would be good.

I thought about doing the ground meat, but that was one more step and would have dirtied another pan. With the veg version it was all just done right in the cooker.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Slow-cooker carnitas

When I mentioned this recipe on Facebook, I wrote it as "carnitas," with the quote marks.
That was because it is not made in a traditional way of braising then frying the meat, instead it cooks all day in the slow cooker.
But now that I have had it as leftovers (and it was even better than the delicious first meal), I dropped the quote marks.
I know purists may argue with me, but this recipe is worthy of no quote-mark innuendo.
And it is so easy. Seriously. Just about the easiest thing I have made in the slow cooker.
Even easier than the oh-so-simple braised short ribs.
And I was skeptical of the results since I like my carnitas to have a bit of crispness to the edges. But I think that using such a small amount of liquid is the key. The juice/broth barely covered the meat when I started it. By the time I got home, most of it had cooked off.
Not all of it. It was not dry. But enough had cooked off so that the top edges were above the liquid and and developed a sort of dry (in a good way) edge.

Slow-cooker carnitas

2 pounds pork tenderloin (This is what I used since it is what I had. Shoulder would work, too.)
Freshly squeezed juice of a large orange (about 1/2 cup)
Freshly squeezed juice of two limes (about 1/2 cup)
9 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon cumin
1 cup beef broth

Trim pork of excess fat.
If using tenderloins, cut each into four pieces and place in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Sprinkle with salt and cumin, then toss to coat.
Add orange and lime juices and the smashed garlic cloves to the pork.
Add broth.

Cook on the lowest setting for 8-10 hours (I set mine for 10 hours since I was going to be gone for work.)
When the meat is cooked, remove it from the pot with the garlic, leaving any excess juice. Roughly chop the meat and garlic.
Serve in warm tortillas with your favorite taco toppings.

For dinner I served these with warmed corn tortillas and several garnishes so we could customize our tacos. (avocado chunks, chopped white onion, chopped cilantro, shredded cheese, sour cream, lime wedges, salsa)
Since I wanted to have a more complete meal, I made some sauteed yellow squash with shallot and garlic and then mixed in a can of (drained) black beans.

Today for lunch we had the leftover meat, once again in tacos. The citrus flavors were even more present than the prior night. I reheated the meat in a skillet on the stove to crisp it up a bit.

When I think about making this, I think I spent more time getting the garnishes ready than I did prepping the meat and then chopping it at the end.
We loved it, the kid loved it and it was easy.
This will definitely become part of the regular rotation.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mint-cilantro pesto

Cheese ravioli with steamed white rose
potatoes and mint-cilantro pesto.

I am a big fan of the cilantro. And mint ain't half bad either.
So the idea of a pesto that uses both of those, a nice Parmesan cheese and some pine nuts? Yeah, I like that idea. A lot!
This is an easy, versatile sauce.It is great on ravioli (get the pre-made ones from the store for a very quick dinner) and a nice condiment for kebabs (lamb, beef or chicken - I have not tried it with shrimp, that could be good, too).
I like a traditional pesto, made with basil, just fine. But the brightness of the mint and the cilantro just make this shine as a "summer" pesto. Though I will be making this all through the fall and winter.

Grilled lamb and veggie kebabs with mint-cilantro pesto.

Mint-cilantro pesto

1 cup packed, fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (plus more to taste if you like it lemony)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil (I use a fairly good one here since the oil is key to pesto)

Blend mint, cilantro, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper to a coarse puree in a food processor. Keeping the food processor running, slowly pour in olive oil and puree until almost smooth.
Taste and add lemon, salt and pepper to taste, if needed.

Enjoy on your favorite pasta for a really quick dinner (seriously, there are some really good pre-made raviolis and tortellini out there!) as a dip for a good crusty bread, as a dipping sauce for grilled meat or veggies.

Really, just enjoy!

By the way, if you are looking for more ways to zip up that store-bought ravioli, check out these ideas from Real Simple.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Citrus and beer steamed tilapia - on the grill

Well, I am not sure where the warm weather went, but there for a few days we had a hot spell and I was determined to cook everything on the grill that I could.
One of my favorite things to do is to cook using foil packets, and one of the best things to do in those packets is fish. In this case I went for tilapia because it was cheap, it looked nice and fresh and it just sounded good.
This was an easy prep and a short cooking time on the grill, which was really just a bonus to how good it tasted.
This is from an Epicurious recipe that I modified. They called for flounder. I called for tilapia.

Before cooking.

Citrus and beer steamed tilapia - on the grill

(two servings)

2 small shallot bulbs, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 thin slices of lime
2 thin slices of orange
2 tablespoons butter
2 tilapia fillets
4 sprigs fresh thyme
cayenne or black pepper
6 tablespoons beer (I used Sam Adams, because that is what I had - white wine works, too)

two pieces of aluminum foil, each twice as long as the pieces of fish (maybe 14-inches long)

Arrange foil pieces over a shallow baking dish or pie pan, sort of lining the pan to create a bowl-like space for your ingredients, leaving an overhang that will be sealed up to create your packet.

Divide shallots and garlic equally and sprinkle into the foil "bowl."
Put two slices of lime and one slice of orange into each packet.
Put 1 tablespoon of butter into each packet.
Set a piece of tilapia on top of this and season lightly with pepper and salt.
Arrange thyme sprigs on top of fish.
Pour 3 tablespoons of beer into each packet.

Gather excess foil and roll to seal the edges.
When your grill is heated on medium-high heat, put the packets (seam side up) on the rack and cook 10 minutes.

After cooking.

I think if you don't like beer, you can definitely use white wine.
If beer or wine is not an option, a little broth of some type probably would work. Or maybe clam juice. I figured there is so little alcohol in the beer and what is there cooks off anyway.

The beer and butter make for a nice little sauce that steams the fish beautifully.
The cayenne adds just a touch of heat. And the citrus is, well, citrusy and lovely.

I served this with grilled white corn and red potatoes that I also had roasted on the grill.
My only regret was that I did not have a lovely, crusty piece of bread to sop up that extra cooking sauce.